The 'FANDOM' menace

So back in 2014 (in a galaxy far far away) the Twitter Gods (er, Goddesses) had chosen to smile upon another unsuspecting and perhaps equally undeserving "internet celeb".  This time - it's 16 year old Target cashier, Alex Lee - I'm not even sure that's his last name.

It was bonkers for like, 15 minutes! - how did one hastily snapped pic of a young cashier from Target come to be the topic over 1 million tweets, a #1 trending hashtag campaign and resulting in 400,000 new followers? (And yes, I'm gravely aware of the fact that, just me writing about this is adding to the flurry of misguided attention).  But while I'm not here to talk about his hair or the recent internet fame of Alex himself, I am here to address the overwhelmingly powerful phenomenon.... of FANDOM. 

"FANDOM": Fandoms have become legendary for the power they exert over Twitter’s trending topics, a list of hashtags that should represent the most popular subjects worldwide — but frequently, represent the interests of a dedicated group of (most often teens/girls?) tweeting the same thing over and over. A quarter of Twitter’s top trending topics in the past month involved boy band fandoms, four of them for One Direction alone. - WP #grainofsalt 

But how can a company / brand harness the power of these publicity tornadoes...?

"Publicity Tornado": Good or Bad - Comes out of now where - Large amounts of traction/attention - shifts your priorities - can challenge a company's concept/approach/beliefs. (tm) *ting!


I realize that I may have mislead you with the blog title here, so fine - Here is my best advice to @acl163: "Take it all in stride, and with humour, and DON'T take it personally - ANY of it. It's not you - it's something bigger than you, and you can either be a pawn along for the ride, to be photo shopped into precarious positions and left behind with tomorrow's stir stick  - OR if you're smart, you'd begin to take control, create a personal brand of some sort - hopefully something positive or useful: #service, #youth, #style ...maybe even #hair and attach some timely commentary about 'the plight of responsible teens today' to secure some relevance and longevity..."  but I digress, you didn't hire me, ergo, NOT my job :)


Now, onto "fandom" and how brands can capitalize on this sweeping and very fleeting epidemic which can turn a HUGE magnifying glass on your brand, no matter how undeserved or untimely. 

1. Assess the damage factor. Is the tornado something negative, believable, garnered from past actions, does it speak to the elephant in the room about your brand or service? You have to think very clearly about whether or not to attach yourself and jump on the bandwagon or whether it's best to just stay under the radar and wait for the storm to pass. Of course, if you are implicated in something that could become legal or heated - it's time to take it to Crisis Comms.

2. Keep it light. If you do choose to engage (and this can mean so many things), it can be done in a way which neither pledges allegiance to one concept, belief or person - nor does it have to slam, segregate or belittle in order to draw a firm line. My advice, a bit of appropriate humour never hurts - keep off the main pain points if you have to, but show them that you can embrace pop cultural references/norms while being above any bullying behaviour.

3. Put on Rainbow goggles. That is, step back and see the potential, this may be a gift from the PR Gods!  I would hope that it would at least engage a creative discussion with your team of how this could be turned into something that your brand could create, use or benefit from by slightly taking control of the message. Just long enough to keep the attention focused on your brand in a positive way - even though the twitterati may die out.  (Oh, I don't know say... starting a company blog written by staff and focusing on customer service and creating a platform on the future of youth at your company?....@Target?)  You may spawn a new crop of super fans who will stand up and give you a slow clap for your quick use of creativity and a brilliant demonstration of company values.

Some may call it opportunist? I call it good, honest, proactive PR.